Thursday, February 7, 2008

Wild honor Mike Modano at February 7th game

It hasn't come a full 360° circle, but it's close enough at this stage of Mike Modano's Hall of Fame-calibre career.

We take a quick trip down memory lane to December 17, 2000. It was not a night Modano enjoyed if you were just talking about that game played between the State of Hockey's original team and the new one. When the Dallas Stars arrived in St. Paul to play the Minnesota Wild, there was plenty of local media buildup and a ton of emotion from the fans leading up to the opening faceoff. Rightfully so. We were talking about the visitors as the former Minnesota North Stars playing their first meaningful National Hockey League game in the Twin Cities since bolting for northern Texas seven years earlier. Even though there were numerous North Stars jerseys to be found inside Xcel Energy Center that night, plenty of diehard Minnesota hockey fans were quite bitter with the departure of their former team.

Modano and the rest of the defending Western Conference champion Dallas Stars were blanked 6-0 in one of the most memorable games in Minnesota Wild history with ex-Star Manny Fernandez giving his opponent no life on the scoreboard. Former Wild television play-by-play announcer Mike Goldberg stated it was the rudest of welcome backs can give, at least from a game standpoint. However, Modano was happy to be back playing NHL hockey even as a visiting player in Minnesota.

As one of the rare instances these days where players are lifers with a single franchise, Modano was drafted by the North Stars in 1988 as just a 17-year-old Livonia, Michigan boy looking to take his game to the next level (see archive video below). He would play five years in Minnesota, including a very memorable 1991 Stanley Cup playoff run all the way to the Finals, but fell two victories short of a championship. But some adversity off the ice regarding the franchise was not overcome and the controversial relocation of the team by former owner Norm Green to Dallas ended one chapter of his hockey life.

video courtesy: Dallas Stars and NHL Productions

Just like many of his teammates did in 1993, Modano didn't know what to expect. How would the Stars fare in a brand new non-traditional hockey market? At first, there were expected growing pains, but with the team quickly becoming competitive with Modano as their star player, Dallas embraced the game. Sure, you have the high-profile Dallas Cowboys to compete with, but the Stars were able to establish a winning tradition. Modano won his only Stanley Cup title in 1999 and a year later were unable to repeat the feat in a six-game series loss to the New Jersey Devils. One memorable time for Modano when he won that coveted championship was his determination to play through a serious wrist injury.

Even though the Stars haven't won another Stanley Cup title since, he progressed his way up the all-time scoring list, but earlier this season, he made history. In a 3-1 victory in San Jose, Modano scored two goals to help defeat the Sharks. But what was the significance of this particular game? Modano passed St. Paul native Phil Housley to become the all-time points leader for an American-born NHL player.

With 1,263 career points (plus another 133 in the playoffs) entering tonight, Modano returns to St. Paul where he'll be honored by the Wild for his contributions to hockey in the United States. More notably, the foundation of his career took shape in nearby Bloomington, Minnesota where the North Stars called the since-demolished Metropolitan Sports Center home, it is only fitting that he is honored for his American hockey accomplishments in one of the most traditional places in this country the sport is celebrated and is part of its way of life.

Even though he will not be playing for the home team and it has been 15 years since he has, Modano still holds a special place for Minnesota in his heart as he explained to Star Tribune Wild beat writer Michael Russo.

"It's a big honor. The five years I spent in Minnesota was an important part of my career and my life," Modano said. "It was fun to be in a place where hockey meant so much to people, not just the North Stars, but the way high school and college hockey was treated. The fans were really special."

Modano feels this way despite having to repair his damaged relationship with Minnesota hockey fans. As he made the career transition to playing in Dallas, Modano had criticized Minnesota's lack of fan support during the North Stars' final years. Before the Wild played their inaugural season, he expressed skepticism in the November 1999 issue of Sport magazine that an expansion NHL team in St. Paul by comparison to neighboring Minneapolis could succeed. But what likely upset many fans in the Twin Cities more than anything else he said was that he felt the Stars wouldn't have won their Stanley Cup nine years ago had the franchise remained in Minnesota.

Despite the ups and downs, Modano deserves to be honored for what he's done as one of the most accomplished American players in the game. And as Richard Durrett of The Dallas Morning News reports tonight on the Stars blog, fans are showing their support by wearing those North Stars jerseys with Modano's familiar #9.


elise said...

I was really little when the North Stars left Minnesota, but the affect it had on the state still hit me right after I started following the Wild a couple years ago.

Oh and that homecoming game (again, pretty young when it happened so didn't watch it live but watched it once I got into hockey) was awesome.

On the Modano honor, it was a nice ceremony. I was there and it was sweet, even though it seemed oddly short.

Kirsten said...

Burn in hell, Modano. Your efforts at making ammends are not working.

He was drafted on the day of my birth, which makes it very easy for me to calculate the length of his career.

Paul said...

Elise and Kirsten, thank you for your comments. :)

I prayed every single time I'd watch an NHL game during the four years there was no NHL hockey to speak of in Minnesota and that I'd continue to hope a new expansion team would arrive. That day finally came when Bob Naegele held that press conference and held up that newspaper where he proudly said "Hockey's Back!". I've been following the Wild ever since that very day.

Regarding Mike Modano, I know it is a sensitive topic, Kirsten. It's like trying to reconcile with an old boyfriend you'd broken up with that hurt you emotionally. Modano angered a lot of Minnesota hockey fans and rightfully so. It really did bother me what he said at the time, especially after the good times he spent as a member of the North Stars (including the 1991 playoff run).

And as far as the ceremony was concerned, I think the Wild made it short because they didn't want to put too much focus on Modano given he never played for their team, Elise. Plus, when it comes to honoring achievements for non-Wild events, it doesn't make sense to do a long, drawn out ceremony. Maybe after he retires, you might see something more for Modano, probably if there's some kind of nostalgia night in Minnesota and many of the North Stars players would be given the five-star treatment.

Kirsten said...

I guess I'm just bitter still. I was not quite five when the team left, but I have lived in MN all my life and have a lot of family and family friends who were sad to see the team go. They told me lots of stories about back in the day, so I feel a bit of a connection, and I guess I was just raised on it.

I did not appreciate his comments about the Wild. Clearly he doesn't get it. The Twin Cities are more or less a package deal. My family lives on the west side, but that doesn't stop them from being Wild season ticket holders...

Good to see you back in the blogosphere!